New New Music

The free music season has begun at the Claremont Colleges. This afternoon’s program featured Tom Flaherty, Professor of Music at Pomona College, and friends. His two most prominent friends were Cynthia Fogg on the viola and Rachel Huang on the violin. Flaherty played the cello. The last time we attended a Flaherty concert he played various pots and pans from his kitchen but that is another story. The concert also featured two premieres of Flaherty’s work. A wonderful, up beat, piece for violin, viola and cello, called Triphoria. While maintaining many of the qualities I associate with so-called new music, it nonetheless had rhythm, melody, and very upbeat recurrent themes. From a purely aesthetic point of view, I found it the hit of the program. The other premiere piece was a rather complex arrangement of the Girl Scout camp song “Peace of the River.” With audience participation, to say nothing of rather complex instrumentation including organ and harpsichord, it was a lot of fun. But somehow, I felt it didn’t quite live up to its potential. Perhaps the audience needed a couple more minutes of rehearsal or a second chance to redeem ourselves.
For me the real highlight of the afternoon was Forrest Pierce’s seven part “Artifacts” for viola and cello. As the program told us,

“Artifacts” is a musical tale of scholarly adventure, in which professor Wollonbriar and his intrepid students, colleagues, paramours, etc., discover not a few delightful and preposterous buried tools of the long forgotten LoLo culture at the fortunes of LoLo-La.

A short narration introduced each movement. For reasons that some may understand, my favorite movement was “A chipped Clay Water Pot.” But I think “Two Blue Lightning Jars” was the most fun. It featured some abnormal ways to make music with a viola or cello. In addition to the normal bow, both performers stroked their instruments with a I don’t know what. These I don’t know whats produced a kind of scrubbing sound rather than the usual clear, if complex, tones of the instruments. On occasion, Flaherty and Fogg bowed their respective instrument below the bridge. While I did try this once in a while when I was a (poor) student of the violin and viola, that was never a recommended procedure. Neither was hitting the tailpiece with a small, knobbed, wooden stick. But they both also did that during this number.
Some of you may think that much of this isn’t “real” music. I once did. But the more I hear, the more I am convinced that it is. Even if Pierce’s work is “genre-defying,” the entire program was well within the ever-evolving tradition of serious concert music. Some I liked more; some I liked less. But that would also be true of the work of the dead guys. In many ways, Shirley and I do tend to prefer the work of long dead composers. I’m completely sure that most those dead composers would understand the new music we heard today as music. I think many of them would approve of it and just as many would enjoy it in much the same way that we did.
Still, I’m looking forward to the next concert which will feature Bach, Rachmaninoff and Gershwin. But that concert will also premiere pieces by Kurt Rohde and Karl Kohn. I just hope Professor Genevieve Lee who will play the piano and the harpsichord will confine her efforts to the keyboard and not spend too much time reaching in and directly plucking the strings or hitting them with sticks. I’ll let you know in a couple weeks.